With almost a year of football lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Notre Dame Cougars coach Ian Rattan wasn’t entirely sure what to expect this season.
Notre Dame started training camp in late August, with unbridled enthusiasm and a full complement of bodies, ready to battle it out during the 2021 Central Alberta Schools Athletic Association football season.
“Kids were chomping at the bit. We’re at the point right now where I’ve run out of equipment and jerseys. I have 52 guys in pads, which is phenomenal,” Rattan said.
“We have so many kids that want to play, it’s awesome. The kids have been so excited. Just thrilled with the opportunity to get back to some normalcy.”
If there was any rust, it didn’t show as the Cougars got off to a hot start over the weekend with a 36-16 win over the Belrose Bulldogs at Great Chief Park in their first game, which was non-conference play.
“The boys played very well. I was really happy with how our offensive line played. They were making a lot of good blocks. We had almost 300 yards on the ground rushing,” Rattan said.
“I was really, really happy with how our offensive line and defensive line played in that first game, just anchored us in the trenches and helped us succeed with what we’re trying to do.”
One saving grace last season, while the pandemic whipped out most high school sports seasons, was the Cougars’ ability to hold team practices throughout the fall, even without a typical full-season schedule. They also did manage to get in two exhibition games, with Holy Rosary of Lloydminster.
“We were very fortunate that our school board allowed us to practice until the middle of October. Everybody on our team that’s in Grade 11 this year and in Grade 12, we had practices Monday to Friday throughout (most) of the pandemic,” he said.
“I think we probably had 30-35 guys at every practice last year and all we had at the start of the pandemic was, we might get an intrasquad game.”
Rattan said this year they’ve got about 18 Grade 12 players, 20 Grade 11s and a number of Grade 10 players this season.
Key to that mix are two players, Grade 12 running back Quinton Kremp and safety Grayson Chabot who were heavily involved with Football Alberta and were also invited to the University of Alberta Hard Knocks elite camp, with some of the best players in the province.
The Cougars will play their second non-conference game against the Foothills Falcons in Calgary Friday.
The Lindsay Thurber Raiders will also kick off their non-conference schedule Friday, with a matchup against the H.J. Cody Lakers in Sylvan Lake. The Hunting Hills Lightning will start their non-conference season with a trip to Holy Rosary on Sept. 10.
Lindsay Thurber will play Hunting Hills on Sept. 24 to start city (conference) play, with the Cougars also taking on the Lacombe Rams at 7:30 p.m.
In 2019, the last season of city league play, the Lighting captured their third straight title and eighth since 2010.